“I thought there was no help for me, and I don’t know’s I wanted to be helped. I said to myself, ’You’re just naturally born weak and it isn’t your fault,’ It makes a lot of men easier in their minds to lay up their troubles to the way they are born. I made all sorts of excuses for myself, but all the time I knew I was wrong; a man can’t fool himself.
“So it went along for years. I got married and we had a little girl.”
He paused for a long moment.
“I thought that was going to help me. I thought the world and all of that little girl——” He paused again.
“Well, she died. Then I broke my wife’s heart and went on down to hell. When a man lets go that way he kills everything he loves and everything that loves him. He’s on the road to loneliness and despair, that man. I’m telling you.
“One day, ten years ago this fall, I was going along the main street in Quinceyville. I was near the end of my rope. Not even money enough to buy drink with, and yet I was then more’n half drunk, I happened to look up on the end of that stone wall near the bridge—were you ever there, Mister?—and I saw the words ‘God is Love’ painted there. It somehow hit me hard. I couldn’t anyways get it out of my mind. ‘God is Love.’ Well, says I to myself if God is Love, he’s the only one that is Love for a chap like me. And there’s no one else big enough to save me—I says. So I stopped right there in the street, and you may believe it or explain it anyhow you like, Mister, but it seemed to me a kind of light came all around me, and I said, solemn-like, ‘I will try God.’”
He stopped a moment. We were walking down the hill: all about us on either side spread the quiet fields. In the high air above a few lacy clouds were drifting eastward. Upon this story of tragic human life crept in pleasantly the calm of the countryside.
“And I did try Him,” my companion was saying, “and I found that the words on the wall were true. They were true back there and they’ve been true ever since. When I began to be decent again and got back my health and my job, I figured that I owed a lot to God. I wa’n’t no orator, and no writer and I had no money to give, ‘but,’ says I to myself, I’m a painter. I’ll help God with paint.’ So here I am a-travelling up and down the roads and mostly painting ‘God is Love,’ but sometimes ’Repent ye’ and ‘Hell yawns.’ I don’t know much about religion—but I do know that His Word is like a fire, and that a man can live by it, and if once a man has it he has everything else he wants.”
He paused: I looked around at him again. His face was set steadily ahead—a plain face showing the marks of his hard earlier life, and yet marked with a sort of high beauty.
“The trouble with people who are unhappy, Mister,” he said, “is that they won’t try God.”
I could not answer my companion. There seemed, indeed, nothing more to be said. All my own speculative incomings and outgoings—how futile they seemed compared with this!